Steven Rogers (screenplay)
In 1994, the figure-skating world was shocked by the brutal attack on US medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan. The more shocking news was that the attack was allegedly conceived and executed by those close to — and perhaps including — rival figure skater Tonya Harding. The film tells Tonya’s story and thus the title I, TONYA.
The story is revealed in tongue in cheek events with humour and irony while keeping to the main dramatic details.
Sad, funny but real this biopic of the infamous American figure Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) plays like a mockumentary as the film is bookended by interviews of the main characters 20 years after ‘the incident’. The film then unfolds in chronological order with Tonya as a child brought to the skating rink as a skating prodigy by her mother who would often slap her around for not doing her best.
‘The incident’ as described in those exact words in the film itself refers to the breaking of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by Tonya’s ex-husband. The question was whether she knew of the plot. As the film explains she likely did not at the start, as it was all Jeff Gillooly’s (Sebastian Stan) idea but when she did get nailed for it, she was then banned from figure skating in any organization for life, a sentence in her own words, that was worst than prison.
Films have been often made of heroes and survivors, but it is seldom that one is made of white redneck trailer trash. That is Tonya Harding. But director Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers portray the skater as someone America loved to hate, but also paints her, despite her volatile and fierce personality someone vulnerable to her surroundings and acquaintances. She is treated brutally (physically and emotionally) by both her two closest relatives, hers husband and mother (Allison Janney).
Director Gillespie remembers that I, TONYA is after all a film about the sport of figure skating. The segments of skating have to be good and they are. Compare the recent tennis film BATTLE OF THE SEXES which made the mistake of including no exciting matches in it. Her triple axel at the 1991 championships is shown beautifully in slow motion.
Gillespie elicits some mighty fine performances from his cast most notably Robbie in the title role as well as Janney as her stern mother, LaVona.
The dialogue though in everyday words are at times so predictable, one can say the words just before the characters utter them. In one scene, after LaVona after throwing a knife that sticks into her daughter’s arms utter the words: “Every family has its ups and downs.” A comical line though the words are stolen from the play and film THE LION IN WINTER. But there are some good lines in the script as when LaVona says (and really believes) that she sacrificed being a loving mother so that Tonya can grow up to become a fierce skater.
Though the film deals partly with the daughter/mother relationship, it shows for once that the relationship is a sour irreconcilable one. Still the film finally gains the sympathy of the skater, that in her own words describes herself as the one America grew to hate.